Pay secrecy in the workplace perpetuates pay inequity. Journalist and union organizer Alex Kirshner guides you through making the argument for pay transparency in your workplace.
Hi, I'm Alex. I helped organize a union and bargain a contract at Vox Media, where I used to work. I saw firsthand how important it is for employees to be organized, and learned a lot about the value of pay transparency in the workplace. I hope you achieve the same thing at yours.
Experts have long been clear that pay transparency is critical to rooting out workplace inequality. At workplaces that encourage the sharing of salary information and job expectations across the organization, workers make more money and are treated more fairly.
Unfortunately, many organizations do not practice pay transparency. Of 427 respondents to a survey released by the nonprofit World At Work in January 2020, 39% said their companies had “minimal” or “nonexistent” pay transparency, while just 14% said their workplace had “significant” or “extreme” transparency. Meanwhile, 46% said transparency was “moderate.” If we have to wonder whether [Company] has pay transparency, that’s a sign it doesn’t – at least not to the extent that it’s made our lives better as workers.
The reason some organizations do not provide significant transparency is not hard to figure out: Pay transparency arms workers with information, and information is power. Because we don’t have transparency around these issues, it’s much easier for [Company] to get away arbitrary or inequitable payment practices. Experts have also pointed out what might seem obvious: The workers most affected by pay secrecy are often non-male and non-white.
We do not know how severe these issues are at [Company] , because like far too many workers, we have not received insight into how the organization makes compensation decisions.
But we are concerned. A group of us recently began informally sharing our salary and raise histories with one another. Through this process, a male engineer shared a salary that was $6,000 higher than a female engineer who does the same job and was hired three months before her male colleague. We were also sad to learn that one of our colleagues, who has been at [Company] for nine years in a critical design role, made $10,000 less than some junior employees doing similar jobs with less experience and fewer responsibilities.
This can be a
Make clear that employees are allowed and encouraged to share salary information with one another, because the free exchange of information helps workers know their worth. It is already against the law to bar workers from sharing this information, but we’d like [Company] to go further by empowering workers to collaborate.
Share with employees detailed pay information for every position, including the median and average salary and how many employees work in those jobs. This step allows employees to know if their compensation is in line with their experience and role. The company will also set minimum salaries for specific jobs, as has long been common in organized workplaces (example on page 23 here). (We are creating our own pay database here and will compare it to what the company provides us.)
Share with employees demographic pay information across the company, including salary medians and averages broken down by race and gender identification. This step allows workers to know if the company is treating workers of all races, genders, and backgrounds equitably. Sometimes, it becomes clear the company is not.
Develop a system to ensure all employees are aware of career advancement opportunities and given the opportunity to apply for available promotions. This step will ensure promotion decisions are made transparently, giving confidence to employees that they’ve received fair consideration to move up.
Develop and share with employees “job ladders,” showing possible paths of advancement from one position to another on the company’s organizational chart. This step will give employees a sense of the company’s expectations for their career growth, so they are not left in the dark without an idea what they are working toward (examples of career ladders in various fields here).
We take a lot of pride in working for [Company] . This organization has provided many of us with great opportunities, and we believe in our mission and all the work we’ve done together. That’s why we’re committed to working with management to make sure [Company] works well for everyone who has devoted their career to building it.
By taking these measures to promote pay transparency, [Company] can live up to its values as an industry leader that cares about inclusion, fairness, and justice. We look forward to working with leadership to make [Company] the best it can be as we continue to serve our community, and we ask for your support as we bring these ideas to management.
If you support this call for enhanced pay transparency, please sign this campaign, which we’ll be presenting to leadership.
Solidarity, Your Coworkers